When was the last time you heard the word “discernment”?
When was the last time you used the word “discernment”?
We don’t often hear the word anymore. Part of the reason is the idea that discernment leaks into the arena of judging. And heaven forbid one Christian should “judge” the behavior or belief of another Christian. Right?
Paul, in his epistle to the Galatian churches, had little trouble discerning both what the problem was within the church community and expressing judgment on those who were creating the problem. He even went so far as to verbally challenge the believers with strong words of indictment like “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting him who called you…” and “you foolish Galatians” .
Understanding the Book of Galatians—first as a whole—is important when it comes to understanding more intimate details such as why Paul used such strong language. We begin understanding the whole by using the tools we talked about in our previous post. So let’s walk through some steps.
- Pray; ask God to guide your thoughts, your questions, your attitude toward the text and your openness to understanding the text. Seek understanding in order to know him better and glorify his name.
- A critical part of studying any book of the Bible is to read the book. Using a good translation, read the book/letter in its entirety, in one setting, if possible. This will give you a sense of flow and help you capture some of the emotion reflected in the words.
- A good Bible dictionary or encyclopedia will come in handy at this point. Some Study Bibles will also be helpful answering those questions. (Of course, don’t forget your atlas.) We want to know “when” the letter was written. “Who” it was written to? “Why” was it written? Etc. You may think you already know these answers for a good many books of the Bible and skip this. Please don’t. I’ve been doing Bible study for the better part of 40 years and I still read the introductory material–who, what, where, why–each time I study a book of the Bible. I still learn new things.
- Key Words—we always want to be on the alert for key words. If a writer uses the same word several times in a verse, verses, chapter or book, that word has significance. Here is where your concordance, dictionary, and Bible software can help you. What word(s) are key to Paul’s teaching in Galatians? I believe there are three. The significance of those words and how they work together is important.
- Once you’ve done this foundational work, then it’s time to look at your commentary. We generally use commentaries economically. That is, when we read a verse(s) that seem difficult to understand, we seek guidance from our commentary. For example, Paul talks about Jesus, “…who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:4 NASB). What does Paul mean? How does Jesus “deliver us out of this present evil age”? When does Jesus deliver us? What does it mean that he might deliver us?
I’ll confess, there is plenty in the first five verses of chapter one to keep us busy for a couple of days. We are just scratching the surface. Notice I didn’t say complicated—there is simply a lot there. And because it’s the introduction, it is important in providing essential information.
Now, let’s go back to the idea of discernment. Discernment is about “recognizing” truth: God’s truth and truth about God. We develop discernment through prayer, a proper understanding of the Bible, and the leading of God’s Spirit. It’s not just about the heart/Spirit, it involves our mind as well. That is why we get our tools out and study the Bible.